Don Panoz explains sale of Mosport

Following Wednesday's announcement of the sale of Mosport International Raceway to Canadian Motorsport Ventures, Inc., Panoz Motor Sports Group Founder Don Panoz reflects on his ownership of the historic Canadian venue, which he purchased more than a dozen years ago.

Q. Why did you buy Mosport initially?
In 1997, Professional Sports Car Racing, Sebring and Mosport were all under the control of Andy Evans. By the end of that year and toward the last race, the series was falling apart. I was told that if someone didn’t step up and buy Sebring and Mosport, another group would take over the sanctioning. So I stepped up and agreed to buy it.

I have to say that I wasn’t completely aware of all the history of Mosport at the time. Then almost immediately I started to find out through Myles (Brandt, Mosport President and GM) the history of the track, being the first place Formula 1 raced in North America, and tradition of the track. It’s really one of the best road tracks in all of Canada and has a very good reputation as a road track in North America. It needed some work. We built new pits, a new pit entry. We started doing maintenance and improving the track year-by-year. We took the ALMS there in 1999 and saw the numbers grow and watched the Canadian support grow. It’s a great track with a great history.

Q. Why did you sell Mosport?
This wasn’t an asset we were looking to sell and went out to find buyers. This was a buyer that came to us because he had the same desire for what should happen to the property as what we had for a property. The opportunity came with Ron Fellows and other well-known and well-respected Canadians (transportation industry leader Al Boughton and real-estate developer Carlo Fidani) to do a transition where it would be returned to Canadian hands – a group that will respect, improve the facilities and carry on the tradition of Mosport.

The people that are involved are among the top development groups in Canada with a great reputation – in the top-50 of Canadian businessmen. Ron certainly cares greatly about Mosport and the Canadian flag – and he carries it well as one of the top drivers the country has produced. They have a vision to take it forward and offer things that sports car enthusiasts in Toronto have an appetite for. I have the confidence they can pull it off.

Q. Talk about the upgrades you’ve done and what you see in Mosport’s future.
We’ve added extra tracks there – an oval track, a driving training track and a karting track. The next step would have been what we were planning on doing in 2007 or 2008 (a motorsport country club / park), which got put on hold (due to the economic downturn). That is the next logical step. I can see it being a track that can accommodate club members – people in Toronto and in the area who have collector cars can really keep them and use them to share those moments with other enthusiasts in a fantastic environment.

Q. How does the sale impact Mosport’s role and spot within the ALMS?
It doesn’t. The same management and same team will stay there. We have agreed that the ALMS will continue to race there. It doesn’t really change anything… another 40 years for Myles!

Q. What is your fondest memory of Mosport?
The most amusing memory is David Brabham taking the lead over Audi within the last 40 minutes and going off between 1 and 2 in a tire barrier and couldn’t get the car back out. When I went down the pits and saw him, I asked him what happened. I expected that he’d tell me there was oil on the track, his brakes had locked up or someone had swerved into him – the normal things that cause a crash. He looked at me straight in the eye and says, ‘To tell you the truth, I ran out of talent!’

We’ve had some exciting races there. It’s a very difficult and technical track. Winning there in 1999 was a great experience. The chuckle though is always from David’s comment! He didn’t try to cover up anything. In all seriousness, it was a dogfight with Audi – attacking and defending. In my years of racing and with all the drivers we’ve had… to have somebody like that say exactly what it was and admit to it, it was priceless.

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